Dog under foot

Dog Gone Problems is a weekly advice column by David Codr, a dog behaviorist in Omaha. David answers dog behavior questions sent in by our readers. You can reach him at momaha@owh.com.

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Dog Gone Problems,

I am the adult male in a household of four people. My 2-year-old border collie mix is like a ball and chain for me; hardly leaving my side as I walk about the house.

I am afraid he is going to trip me as I go up and down the stairs. Any time I get up, the dog is next to me and following me. It is extremely annoying, as I am often tripping over the dog. He does not exhibit this behavior with any others in the house.

I feel it may be because I am the one who takes him for his "fun" walks (off leash and chasing things), and he is always hoping we are going out. When I do grab his leash and toy, he goes nuts with excitement. He is otherwise a pretty neurotic dog, afraid of things like balloons, boxes, trash bags and the like.

Is it possible I have a "special" dog? I love him dearly, but he is a real pain in the rear.

Howie

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Dear Howie,

Reading your letter, I was concerned with how many negative attributes you used to describe your dog’s behavior – “a real pain in the rear,” “ball and chain” and “annoying.”

It's important to keep in mind your dog isn't doing this to anger or upset you. In fact, the behavior suggests a dog with lower self esteem. One of the last things you want to do is get upset with a dog whose approach is to hopefully not upset you.

You mention your dog is “always hoping you go out.” This suggests the dog is higher energy or is not getting enough exercise. High energy dogs need at least 45 minutes or more of exercise per day. If your dog isn't getting that much through walks, games of fetch or other activities, he may think he better stick close hoping you notice him and remember to go out for some fun and exercise.

Does your dog know many commands? A great way to build up self esteem in a dog is to teach it new skills. Just like humans, dogs have a sense of pride when they learn a new skill. In your case, teaching the dog to stay should be near the top of the list.

Mastering the stay exercise will help in two ways. First, you can stop the dog from getting underfoot by placing it into a stay/wait position. The other reason is the exercise helps the dog develop self control. I'd suggest you make sure your dog is getting 45 minutes or more of exercise each day, and teach your dog the stay exercise and at least four other new commands or tricks. Start out with one per week and commit to spending 5 to 10 minutes a day teaching and practicing.

If you can't hire a positive reinforcement trainer to guide you in person, search YouTube. There are thousands of videos from dog instructors that include step-by-step instructions on how to teach your dog new tricks.

If you make the commitment to teach a new trick per week (after you teach the stay exercise) for a month or more and up your dog’s daily exercise, you should notice your dog’s confidence grow. Once it feels more self assured, it won't need to be so clingy. And if it does start to follow when you don't want, you can tell it to stay until your return.

Good luck and remember: Everything you do trains your dog, only sometimes you mean it.

David

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Submit your pet questions to David Codr by emailing a photo of your dog and question to momaha@owh.com

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